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U.S. Attorney André Birotte Tapped by Obama to be Fed. Judge—& Why This is Cheering News

April 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


U.S. ATTORNEY ANDRE BIROTTE NOMINATED BY POTUS TO BECOME FEDERAL JUDGE

On Thursday afternoon the news came down that LA’s own U.S. Attorney André Birotte had been nominated by President Barak Obama for the federal bench.

Actually Obama announced the nomination of two new federal judges, one for the DC area, and one as Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California—namely Birotte. Both nominations are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

For a while I’d been hearing whispers that André Birotte was being vetted for the position. It is very good news that the whispers have proved true.

He has, to paraphrase author Tom Wolfe, the right stuff for the job.

Since 2010, Birotte has served as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, meaning he’s the U.S. Attorney for the district that covers seven counties, including Los Angeles, making it the second largest—and arguably the most complicated—in the nation.

In the years that Birotte has been U.S. Attorney, in addition to the usual kind of crime fighting—gang busts, cybercrime, fraud, civil rights violations, bigtime drug dealing, and the like—Birotte’s office has also engaged in the ticklish business of arresting elected officials, as in the investigation and arrest of Democratic state senator Ron Calderon of Montebello who was charged with a list of corruption allegations, including accepting $100,000 in bribes.

And of course, it is Birotte’s office that oversees the still expanding investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, that has thus far resulted in the indictment of 20 department members—with more indictments almost certain to come. It is an investigation that has repeatedly made national news, draws intense attention from local elected officials (among others), and has the potential to be of far greater consequence than we have yet seen. Already it may have had a hand in the precipitous retirement of a sitting sheriff.

It is interestingly fateful that Birotte should have been at the helm during this investigation, as his experience with law enforcement is many times deeper than that of most prosecutors.

Prior to his appointment by Barack Obama to the position of U.S. Attorney, from 2003 to 2010, Birotte served as inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD.

As inspector general, even though he had no legal power over the LAPD’S actions, he was—according LAPD observers I spoke with at the time—”one of the unsung heros” who had a real effect in helping to turn around and revitalize what had become an extremely troubled department.

As the IG, Birotte had a reputation as a principled man, a nuanced thinker, and a straight shooter when it came to matters of the law, a reputation that expanded once he made the jump to U.S. Attorney.

I remember a conversation I had with Birotte a few months after he’d been sworn in to the position. We talked first about the various challenges he would face in his new position. Then the conversation turned to the idea of justice itself. I remember saying something about how prosecutors seem to have more power than ever and that, so often—both on a local and a federal level—it sometimes seemed that the goal was to win as big as possible, but not necessarily to seek justice—especially when winning and justice are in conflict.

“Its funny you should bring that up,” he said, “I’ve just been telling my staff that this is going to be a justice-driven office. Firm but fair. But more than anything, justice-driven. It’s not just about winning.”

The discussion didn’t stop there. But you get the gist.

It was a message that he has repeatedly emphasized by a “Community Outreach Team” he created within his office to “reach out to those communities within the district most impacted by threats to their civil rights,” and in his own public statements.

For instance, there is this Op Ed that Birotte wrote as the 10th annerversary of 9/11 approached, about the necessity of safeguarding our civil liberties as we protect our national security.

And more recently, Birotte said this to the LA Times Patt Morrison:

“I tell prosecutors here, you come into this job with what I call a reservoir of justice. Your job is to make sure that reservoir is always full. The only way to do that is doing the right thing, the right way, all the time.”

This is not to suggest that Birotte is any kind of soft touch. The other message he has repeatedly stressed at press conferences is that no one is above the law. They “believed they were above the law,” he said of LA County deputies who are charged with gross violations of the civil rights of jail inmates, or those visiting friends and family members in the jails. “The message this case sends is that no one…is either above or outside the law. And that is a message that we are proud to send,” he will state when announcing this or that arrest or conviction.

Both principles are represented by the fact that Birotte reinstalled a public corruption and civil rights unit that had been disbanded by his predecessor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein who recommended Birotte for the U.S. Attorney position and for Thursday’s nomination to the federal bench, put out a statement praising the president’s selection of Birotte:

“I have been very impressed with his performance over the last four years. He has a record of excellence and fairness. I am confident he will serve the people of the Central District very well as a U.S. district judge.”

The rest of his career that has led to the Thursday’s nomination, has also included a stint as a federal prosecutor (Assistant United States Attorney, 1995 to 1999), time as an LA County Deputy Public Defender (1991 -1995), and a couple of years in private practice with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP. Birotte received his J.D. in 1991 from Pepperdine University School of Law and his B.S. in 1987 from Tufts University.

Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Birotte will replace Clinton-appointed Judge Gary Allen Feess, who is retiring.

Of course, with Birotte leaving (although the confirmation process is likely to take time in the fractious Senate) there is the question of who will replace him as U.S. Atty., and if the change in leadership will in any way affect the investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

But we’ll explore all that later. For now we’re merely happy for André Birotte’s good news.

Posted in Courts, FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

Proposal to Keep Kilpatrick Sports Program Alive…..Judge Nash Plans New Order to Open Family Courts to Media…Does the LASD IG Need Greater Independence?….& More

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


According to a motion sponsored at last Tuesday’s board meeting
by Supervisor Don Knabe, Probation Chief Jerry Powers was going to deliver a report on Tuesday of this week detailing exactly where and how he thought he could relocate the popular sports program that is right now in residence at Camp Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is the aging LA County juvenile probation facility that will be shuttered and torn down starting at the end of this month in order to make way for a brand new rehabilitation-centric juvenile probation camp that it is intended to be a model for future camps that help kids rather than simply punish them.

However, as much as California juvenile advocates are in favor of the new Kilpatrick project, the many fans of the sports program don’t want to lose one good thing, in order to get another.

(For the back story on the Kilpatrick sports issue, see our post of last week.)

It was everyone’s assumption that Powers’ report would be presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But a few days ago, that plan changed and Powers said he would simply deliver his report to the supervisors on Tuesday, without a public presentation.

The report in question was finally delivered to all the Supes Wednesday, and we have obtained a copy.

There’s lots of good news in what Powers has proposed, like the fact that Powers has set a firm timeline for the sports program reopening for the fall season. However, some of the details may produce complications—particularly the fact that the proposed location for the sports program is Challenger Memorial Youth Camp in the Lancaster area, more than an hour away from where Kilpatrick is now located in Malibu.

Yet, the proposal also describes the advantages that Camp Challenger has to offer, like two gymnasiums, multiple areas for practice fields, and others. It also helps that moving the sports program there will not displace any existing programs.

But it’s complicated.

Hopefully, all parties can come together in good faith to work out any rough spots so that the sports program can resume for the Fall 2014 season with even more support than it has had in the past—which is what Powers has made clear he wants.

We also hope that this new plan will continue to support the work of the extraordinarily dedicated Kilpatrick coaches who continue to give so much of themselves to the kids who have been under their care.

We’ll keep you up to date as this story unfolds further.

Here’s a copy of Wednesday’s report. Garfield sports proposal


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH’S EXCELLENT & LEGALLY TWEAKED PLAN TO RE OPEN CHILD CUSTODY COURTS TO THE PRESS

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this month, in a 2-1 decision a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

Undeterred, Judge Nash will soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

Journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has more on the story in the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip:

Today, Presiding Judge Michael Nash continued his campaign to encourage media access to Los Angeles County’s historically closed juvenile dependency court, after a California appeals court had invalidated a similar, earlier order only this month.

While Nash had called the changes a “a distinction without a difference,” in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last week, it appears that his new order will thread the needle on this highly contentious issue: by offering the press a way in, but forcing reporters to be conscious of the potential harm their coverage could cause to vulnerable children.

Nash sent a revision of his controversial 2012 order easing press access to a clutch of judges, journalists, child advocates and other stakeholders for comment. They have until April 14th, after which Nash intends on issuing a new order that will once again allow press into the courts.

Read the draft order HERE:

A key reason why two out of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District ruled against the 2012 order was because they believed it stripped individual judges and court referees of discretion in excluding the press from sensitive hearings involving child victims of maltreatment.

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


DOES THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER AND INDEPENDENCE?

The LA Times Editorial Board thinks new IG Max Huntsman needs more independence if he is to be effective. Here’s a clip from the editorial:

It was no surprise last week when Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended against renewing contracts with two agencies monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. The same citizens commission that called for the creation of Huntsman’s office also suggested that it absorb the functions of those other agencies, one of them established 22 years ago to report on excessive force and lax discipline, the other created nine years later to monitor the sheriff’s handling of deputy misconduct allegations.

One lesson arising from the commission’s hearings was that the county’s existing oversight and reporting agencies were insufficient to end a pattern of abuse in the jails; the implication was that a differently constructed and empowered office would be better suited to the task.

That lesson and that implication could stand some scrutiny. Without it, the county could find itself with new titles and offices but the same problems it failed to solve a decade ago and a decade before that.

Just why, for example, were the special counsel and the Office of Independent Review inadequate? The citizens commission noted that both did their investigations and reports but both met with a “lack of meaningful or timely action” by the Sheriff’s Department. And why did the department not respond? Because it didn’t have to. Criticism and critiques were filed by both monitors with the Board of Supervisors, which too often failed to use the political power at its disposal to develop sufficient public pressure to get the sheriff to act.

Read on.


A COOK COUNTY, ILL, JUDGE SENTENCED A KID TO DIE IN PRISON IN 1988 AND HATED THAT THE LAW MADE HIM DO IT

The Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib and Steve Mills report about how judges are glad that the US Supreme Court ordered an end to mandatory life for kids. Now various state courts are stepping in to put the Supremes ruling into motion.

Here’s a clip:

The Cook County judge made it quite clear he did not want to sentence Gerald Rice to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the sentencing hearing in 1988, Judge Richard Neville noted that Rice was mildly mentally disabled and that evidence showed the 16-year-old had been coaxed by an older man into throwing a Molotov cocktail into a West Side house on a summer night two years earlier, killing a woman and three children. The co-defendant was acquitted.

Neville criticized state legislators for tying his hands and making a life sentence mandatory. Doing so, he said, stripped him of his discretion. He could not weigh Rice’s age, maturity level, lack of a criminal record or his role in the murders. Urging Rice’s attorney to appeal, the judge said he hoped that such mandatory sentences would be outlawed someday.

“I think it is outrageous that I cannot take that into consideration in determining what an appropriate sentence is for Mr. Rice,” a transcript quoted Neville as saying about Rice’s fate compared with his co-defendant’s. “It is with total reluctance that I enter the sentence, and it is only because I believe I have no authority to do anything else that I enter this sentence.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled the judge’s hopes, ruling that mandatory life sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week the state’s highest court weighed in, ruling that inmates in Illinois who received mandatory life sentences for murders that they committed as juveniles should receive new sentencing hearings.

“It’s a judge’s job and usually they’re the best qualified to decide what kind of sentence is appropriate,” Neville said last week. “I’ve got the most information and the best view of what happened and of the defendant’s background.”

Neville retired from the bench in 1999 and now is a mediator.

The ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affects about 100 inmates who were under 18 at the time of their offenses, according to state prison officials. The youngest four were 14, while about half were 17. The vast majority were sentenced in Cook County. Most were convicted of more than one murder.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

An “Epidemic” of Brady Violations…ATF Agents Behaving Badly…. Fed Judges Now Add Solitary to CA Prison Talks

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI FOR THE 9TH CIRCUIT SEZ THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko (one of our favorite criminal justice journalists and the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop) reports on the series of statements by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski—and what is behind Kozenski’s blistering fury. Here’s a clip:

The dissent by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, from a decision not to rehear U.S. v. Olsen starts off with a bang:

There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.

Brady, of course, is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. In Olsen, a ruling from a three-judge 9th Circuit panel in January detailed extensive questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks (*see clarification below), who works for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. (Kozinski’s opinion this week doesn’t name Hicks, nor do most press accounts of the decision, but I will. These prosecutors need to be identified by name.)

[BIG SNIP]

The U.S. Department of Justice is stingy when it comes to releasing information about disciplining federal prosecutors for misconduct, but it seems unlikely Hicks will face any real sanction. Recent media investigations have found that such discipline is rare. Even in cases involving high-profile, egregious misconduct, like the prosecution of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors can usually duck any serious sanction. In the Stevens case, the DOJ imposed light suspensions on the offending prosecutors, and even those were later overturned by an administrative law judge. (You could make a strong argument that federal prosecutors have more protections against professional sanction than criminal defendants do against violations of their constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.)

Offenbecher says it’s unlikely that he’ll file a complaint against Hicks. That isn’t uncommon, either. Defense attorneys have to work with prosecutors on behalf of other clients, including negotiating favorable plea bargains. Putting yourself in the cross-hairs of a U.S. attorney’s office can make it very difficult to be an effective advocate. That’s a lot of risk to take on, especially if it’s unlikely that anything will actually come of the complaint.


FEDERAL ATF AGENTS PAY TROUBLED 19 YEAR OLD TO GET JOINT SMOKING SQUID TATTOO….AND WORSE

This story falls into the please-tell-us-you’re-kidding category.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Coner Friedersdorf and Andrew Cohen draw attention to an astonishing, and largely ignored story broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s alleged use of a string of mentally disabled locals in a number of US cities to drum up business for their various stings, later arresting the people they’d used.

And then the ATF’s behavior really got crazy.

Here’s a clip:

Lately infamous for the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, the ATF now has the dubious distinction of bankrolling even-more-questionable behavior, which my colleague Andrew Cohen details here. The newspaper leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop’s emblem on their necks.

But digging into the story, it’s evident that undercover employees were engaged in far more objectionable behavior.

In cities around the United States, the ATF set up fake stores—often but not always pawn shops—set up surveillance cameras, conducted lots of illegal business over many months, and arrested various customers at the end of the sting. Normally federal law-enforcement agencies don’t set up operations guaranteed to mostly snare low-level individual criminals operating at the local level.

Questionable resource allocation aside, the really shocking parts of this scandal involve what happened at the neighborhood level as several of these stores were being operated. Just take a look at the newspaper’s bullet-point summary….

To find the summary, click here. And for the whole series, go here.


FEDERAL JUDGES ADD THE ISSUE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO THE CALIFORNIA PRISON NEGOTIATIONS

As the mandated negotiations continue to try to nail down a long-term plan that will lower California’s prison population, as ordered by the US Supremes, a new element has found its way into the talks, reports the LA Times’ Paige St. John. Here’s a clip from St. John’s story:

Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state’s deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.

Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding.

California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. In Wednesday’s order, the judges said they expect no further extension in the talks, “absent extraordinary circumstances,” but that does not preclude additional delays in the actual crowding deadline.

[SNIP]

Transcripts of courtroom hearings show the talks took a twist after Thanksgiving, when Karlton said he was concerned about some 230 mentally ill prisoners currently housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction. State prison officials say they are there for their own protection, or while awaiting space in a mental health unit.

Karlton said he told the other federal judges “that as far as I was concerned” the state’s request for an extension to reduce prison overcrowding should not be granted as long as those mentally ill inmates were being held in isolation units.

Lawyers for California made it clear that the state is eager to address the judge’s concerns about solitary confinement. Transcripts show that at one point last week, state officials were rushing documents to the judge for review. At another, they offered to produce Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to speak with Karlton. The judge said he was told Brown’s office responded that it “understood the nature of the problem” and promised a quick remedy….

Posted in CDCR, Courts, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, How Appealing, law enforcement, solitary | No Comments »

New Approach to Juvie Crime is Working in Red Hook….Should Taxpayers Pay the LASD’s Punitive Damages?…..Paul Tanaka Says Sheriff Baca Shut Down Narco Investigation…..Insane Justice ….and More

November 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A HUMANE, COMMUNITY-ORIENTED APPROACH TO JUVIE & ADULT CRIME IS WORKING IN RED HOOK, SAYS NEW REPORT

In April 2000, a new courthouse called the Red Hook Community Justice Center opened its doors in a vacant schoolhouse in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Over the previous few decades, Red Hook had declined from a vibrant, working-class waterfront community into crime and drug-ridden place that residents fled when they could.

The Justice Center hoped to change all that by “halting the revolving door” of the traditional criminal justice system. Justice Center planners believed that “community courts foster stronger relationships between courts and communities and restore public confidence in the justice system.”

It was a bravely optimistic concept.

Yet, according to a fascinating report released last Tuesday by the National Center for State Courts, evaluating the program’s outcomes, the approach that launched 13 years ago, is working impressively well.

The report found, among other things, that juvenile defendants were 20 percent less likely to re-offend when their cases had been heard at the Justice Center—instead of at the Kings County Family Court, where cases would have normally been heard.

After reading the report, the New York Daily News described the Center as “a success for defendants and taxpayers.”

(The Center hears adult cases as well. For adults, thus far recidivism has dropped by 10 percent.)

Roxanna Asgarian of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the Justice Center-–and the report. Here’re some clips:

On a recent afternoon in a Red Hook courtroom, a disheveled young woman in a baggy blue sweatshirt was being sentenced for a drug-related offense. The judge had seen her in court before, always for arrests related to her heroin addiction.

Judge Alex Calabrese, a paternal-looking middle-aged man, asked her to approach the bench.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, looking into her eyes. “Yes,” she responded.

He reached out and took her hand.

“Are you gonna get on the bus? Are you gonna stay on the bus?” he asked, and she nodded. “Yes.”

Calabrese signed the paperwork for her to enter a mandatory detox and rehabilitation center, and she was to leave on a bus from the courtroom to the rehab facility in ten minutes.

“She got picked up last night at 6:30 p.m., and she’ll be on a bus to rehab at 3:30 today,” Calabrese said. “That’s good work.”

[SNIP]

Where in traditional courts, the defendant may meet with their public attorney just minutes before their trial, at the Justice Center, onsite social workers can meet with the defendant and come up with alternatives to incarceration, like mandated community service or treatment, before the offender meets with a judge.

For young residents of Red Hook, where 70 percent of the neighborhood lives in public housing, the chance to keep their record clean, or clear it, can make a world of difference in the opportunities they’ll have for their future.

“It’s not that complicated an idea,” said Julian Adler, the Justice Center’s director. “It’s just something that you don’t typically see in the criminal justice system.”


THE LA TIMES ASKS IF COUNTY TAXPAYERS SHOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SUPERVISORS

In Monday’s editorial, the LA Times asks what a lot of people have been asking of late: Should Sheriff Baca and others in the department have to personally pay injured inmates?

It’s a question that has two sides to it, as the Times points out.

The arguments on indemnification can cut both ways. On the one hand, if those held liable were just doing their jobs, or if they had no way of knowing they behaved wrongly or if they were following orders, perhaps they shouldn’t have to pay. It doesn’t make sense to punish a few rank-and-file deputies if the culture of the department is what’s really to blame. Nor does it make sense to create a environment in which officers feel they must act with excessive caution….

On the other hand…..

Here’s another snip from the end of the editorial:

….at the very least, we’d like to see the county Board of Supervisors hold a public discussion and a public vote on the subject. No doubt some on the board will argue that they need to make such decisions behind closed doors, because they will require confidential advice from their lawyers as they consider whether to pay the awards and whether to appeal the verdicts. But the truth is that the supervisors routinely get legal advice in closed session on matters such as whether to transfer inmates out of the county, and then go on to hold a robust public debate on the same subject.

The decision of whether to indemnify these defendants isn’t merely a legal matter. It’s a public policy issue that requires the supervisors to explain why taxpayers should continue to pay out millions of dollars for public officials who break the law. Perhaps declining to indemnify the deputies and the sheriff who leads the department would help reform this deeply troubled agency.

Oh, Board of Supes…? Are you listening…?


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA ACCUSES SHERIFF LEE BACA OF SQUASHING A NARCOTICS INVESTIGATION AIMED AT BACA’S FRIEND BISHOP TURNER

On Thursday of last week, KABC-TV reported on LA County Sheriff Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner—who was making $105,000, per year plus percs—but who had recently been relieved of duty by the sheriff in response to a series of decidedly curious issues that the ABC-TV folks uncovered in their reporting.

The most startling of those issues had to do with a mystery package addressed to Turner’s church that was intercepted in 2005 by an LASD narcotics squad. After the squad’s drug-and-money sniffing dog (whose name was Jake) did everything but point a paw at the package in question, investigators opened the thing and found, among other things, more than $84,000 in shrink wrapped cash inside. The narcotics squad believed the cash was part of a drug transaction.

An investigation ensued but went nowhere, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Then on Friday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, put out a statement saying that back in 2005, while he had personally pressed for the Turner/cash incident to be vigorously investigated, the sheriff had ordered the probe to be squashed.

“In 2005, I was made aware that detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Bureau had intercepted a parcel package destined for Bishop Edward Turner’s church. The package contained in excess of $80,000 in cash. The detectives believed that the money was a direct result of selling and distributing illegal narcotics,” said former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. “Although I did not have chain-of-command responsibility for Detective Division in 2005, I directed my aide to advise the detectives that they needed to conduct a full investigation, despite the fact that Bishop Turner was a Field Deputy to Sheriff Lee Baca. Subsequent to this direction, I was advised that Sheriff Baca had personally ordered the investigation terminated. This is appalling, unacceptable, and just another reason why the Sheriff’s Department needs new leadership.”

On Friday night, Tanaka appeared on KABC to reiterate these charges. However, Steve Whitmore—who was also interviewed—asked why Tanaka, as a law enforcement officer, had not made sure the investigation went forward anyway.

Reporter Marc Brown posed that very question to the former undersheriff—at which time Mr. Tanaka paused conspicuously, then phumphered something about how “you won’t last long” if you go against the sheriff.

Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources inside the department told us that someone at the LASD squashed the investigation.

There is also much speculation among department members about who might have leaked the internal LASD documents showing the existence of the narcotics investigation against Turner, to KABC, and why? (The suggestion is that there may have been a political agenda behind the leak.)

With all this competitive finger-pointing going on, one cannot help but hope that some outside law enforcement agency—like, say, the FBI—has taken an interest in the case of Bishop Turner, the mystery box-of-cash, and the possibly-aborted narcotics investigation.


SPEAKING OF THE LASD & ELECTIONS….

We reported a few weeks ago on the battle for control of the board of one of the LASD unions, PPOA. On Friday, the ballots were counted and it appears that the slate of candidates rumored to be aligned with Paul Tanaka were defeated by the incumbent board members.


INSANE JUSTICE: DO WE REALLY WANT THESE PEOPLE TO BE SERVING LIFE SENTENCES?

As we noted last week, the ACLU has released a new and devastating report about Americans serving life sentences without the possible of parole for non-serious crimes, very often drug related, nearly all people with no violent crimes in their backgrounds.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an impassioned editorial that points out the utter madness of such sentencing.

Here are some clips:

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

[SNIP]]

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men…..”

There are two bills before congress that, if passed, would give judges a bit more discretion.

But as the NY Times notes, this gesture toward reform isn’t close to enough—either on a federal or a state level.

Let us remember, we incarcerate more of our fellow Americans per capita than any other country in the world. No one else even comes close. These kind of sentencing policies are a large part of why.


THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, THE SUPREME COURT, & LOCKING UP THE INNOCENT

Michael Kirkland, UPI’s Senior Legal Affairs Writer takes a look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s complicated and often troubling relationship with the concept of innocence.

Here’s how his report opens:

The case of Ryan Ferguson, the Missouri man freed after spending 10 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit, shows the nation’s justice system, one of the fairest in the world, occasionally convicts the innocent, puts them in prison and throws away the key.
Does the U.S. Supreme Court give a damn?

Ferguson improbably was convicted on the “repressed memories” of a friend for the 2001 killing of Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune Sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot as Heitholt was leaving work early in the morning.

The friend recanted at trial and another witness putting Ferguson at the scene also recanted. He was not connected to fingerprints, bloody footprints and hair found at the crime scene.

Ferguson, now 29, was sentenced to 40 years. He was finally freed last week.

So far the Innocence Project has freed more than 300 people based on DNA evidence, Kirkland notes.

Still other people have been freed by the dogged work of attorneys who believed that an injustice had been done, and find the evidence to prove it.

But in some of those cases, even when new evidence surfaces that indicates those convicted are likely factually innocent, lower courts fail to act. At those times, SCOTUS is split about whether innocence is a legal reason for the high court to wade in.

Here’s what Kirkland writes:

On one side, Roberts and his fellow conservatives warn at some point, judicial proceedings have to be final, and opening the floodgates of judicial review might return the justice system to the days when death row inmates and others delayed their sentences for decades with claim after claim, despite the overwhelming evidence that convicted them.

After all, Congress, fed up with endless federal appeals, enacted the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 to limit habeas review.

On the other side, Stevens and his fellow liberals made the practical argument: If a DNA test or rape kit test can make a conviction even more certain, or expose a miscarriage of justice, why not do it?

Such divisions probably will continue. How do you effectively punish the great mass of the guilty without damning the innocent few?


And then Kirkland notes this statement from Antonin Scalia who said in his dissent in a 2009 case
in which the majority of the Supremes granted a new evidence hearing for a Georgia death row inmate.

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a [constitutional] court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

As is often the case, Scalia makes a distressing—but legally interesting—point.


Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, DNA, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman—and the Interweave of Fear, Heartbreak and Injustice that Haunts the Verdict’s Aftermath

July 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Since the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman was announced just a few minutes
after 7 pm, Pacific Time on Saturday night, there is no shortage of opinions on what the verdict meant and did not mean.

Of all that we have seen and read since Saturday night’s announcement by the all-female jury, among the essays and analyses that we feel adds the most to the collective dialogue are the following:


it’s worth reading everything on the topic by writer Jeleni Cobb who covered the trial and its aftermath for the New Yorker.

Here’s a clip from his essay about Day 10 of the trial:

Amid their frustratingly uneven presentation, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda and the rest of the prosecution have pegged their second-degree murder charges largely on the idea that Martin was losing the fight on February 26th of last year, that he shouted for help, and that Zimmerman, a vigilante would-be cop, shot and killed him anyway. In plotting their route to conviction, they necessarily bypass another set of questions. What if he wasn’t losing the fight? What if Zimmerman is the one who called for help? What if Martin did swing first? And, most crucially, is an unarmed black teen-ager ever entitled to stand his ground?

The answers to these questions have bearing that is more social than legal, but they’re inescapable in understanding how we got here in the first place and what this trial ultimately means.


Also good is this column by our usual go-to-guy from The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen. Here’s a clip from his take on the trial and the verdict, and the oceans of fears, heartbreak and knowledge of our still-tragically race-fractured nation that they triggered.

Of course the deadly meeting last year between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had at its core a racial element. Of course its tragic result reminds us that the nation, in ways too many of our leaders refuse to acknowledge, is still riven by race. The story of Martin and Zimmerman is the story of crime and punishment in America, and of racial disparities in capital sentencing, and in marijuana prosecutions, and in countless other things. But it wasn’t Judge Debra Nelson’s job to conduct a seminar on race relations in 2013. It wasn’t her job to help America bridge its racial divide. It was her job to give Zimmerman a fair trial. And she did.

[LARGE SNIP]

Without a confession, without video proof, without a definitive eyewitness, without compelling scientific evidence, prosecutors needed to sell jurors cold on the idea of Zimmerman as the hunter and Martin as the hunted. But when the fated pair came together that night, in those fleeting moments before the fatal shot, the distinctions between predator and prey became jumbled. And prosecutors were never able to make it clear enough again to meet their burden of proof. That’s the story of this trial. That explains this result. That’s why some will believe to their own dying day that George Zimmerman has just gotten away with murder.


And finally there is Monday’s essay by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. Below is a clip from the opening to get you started, but it demands a full reading:

In trying to assess the the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicted truths emerge for me. The first is that is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice. In examining the first conclusion, I think it’s important to take a very hard look at the qualifications allowed for aggressors by Florida’s self-defense statute:

Read the rest. It is painful. And essential.


PS: Oh, yes, and the most intelligent, insightful, literate rant on the verdict and its meaning comes from Charles Pierce, Esquire’s political columnist/blogger. (Charlie Pierce rants so the rest of us don’t have to.)


Demonstrators on the 10 freeway, Skipp Townsend of 2nd Call, July 14, 2013

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Community Health, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, race, racial justice | 3 Comments »

LASD “COPS HIT Team” Opens Fire…CA Activist Gets Son Back After 3-Strikes Reform…..The Teen Court Option

April 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A SHOOTING IN LANCASTER

Angel Mendez, 30, and Jennifer Garcia, 27, were assuredly not model citizens. Yet they were not suspected of any crime when a specialized Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department team reportedly blew through the door of the backyard shack where they were living.

The members of the “COPS HIT” team (the unfortunately conceived acronym for “Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team”) reportedly entered the shack without knocking, calling out, or identifying themselves. They had evidently come to the shack looking for a parolee who had gone AWOL from his court-ordered drug rehab. They’d gotten a tip that he might have gone to the Mendez/Garcia shack. Or not. It might have been somewhere else.

Within seconds two of the team unloaded a total of fifteen bullets into Angel Mendez and Jennifer Garcia.

In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Patrick Range McDonald delves into the story of the shooting, the subsequent response of the sheriff’s department, and the civil case that has recently finished and now awaits a judicial verdict.

Here are two clips—one from near the first of the stort, the second from near the end.

Conley opened the shack door with his department-issued 9mm semiautomatic Beretta drawn. Mendez, who had on the bed a Daisy Powerline rifle-style BB gun that he used for shooting rats, sat up and moved the BB gun to the floor. Conley opened fire. A bullet ripped into Mendez’s right forearm, passed through it and struck his right leg — proof, his attorneys today say, that he was reaching down to put the BB gun on the floor when shot.

“I didn’t even know it was them,” Mendez later told Sheriff’s Homicide Sgt. Robert Gray. “They didn’t say ‘police’! They didn’t say ‘freeze’! They didn’t say ‘drop the weapon’! They said nothing, sir.”

Conley and Pederson fired at will, peppering the couple with 14 more bullets, one of which struck the seven-months-pregnant Garcia in the right upper back and shattered her collarbone. Mendez was critically injured, hit multiple times in his right leg, arm, back and side; blood poured from his wounds. Weeks later, his badly fractured right leg, whose key arteries had been sliced in half, had to be amputated.

In a disturbing videotape taken minutes after the shooting, as a paramedic worked to stop the bleeding, police can be clearly heard pressuring Mendez to say he’d pointed the BB gun at Conley. Mendez begs the people around him, “Oh, please, don’t let me die, sir!” then turns his head toward neighbor Charles Green, who is witnessing the drama, and tells Green: “I never pointed the gun at him, Charlie!”

And pages later…a second clip:

Tom Parker, the former head of L.A.’s FBI office, read the Sheriff’s and L.A. County District Attorney reports on the Mendez shooting, as well as David Drexler’s opening statement at trial. He has come to suspect that COPS HIT and TOP were engaged in the “very common” practice of “testi-lying” after a bad shoot.

Parker is a retired 24-year veteran of the FBI whose distinguished career included undercover investigations, police corruption and brutality cases and investigations of agent-involved shootings. Last year, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara gave him a Heroes of Justice Award for his work on criminal-justice reform.

Parker says police sometimes lie about “drug houses” to justify unjustifiable searches. But he has even more fundamental doubts than that in the Angel Mendez case. He questions whether a deputy ever saw big, white Ronnie O’Dell at Albertsons or whether the purported informant even existed.

“From that point forward,” Parker says, referring to the deputies’ huddle outside Albertsons, “there’s really faulty police procedures happening here.” Nobody saw O’Dell leave Albertsons, so the deputies were not in a “hot pursuit” to Paula Hughes’ home. Nor was there any clear and immediate threat to the public.

Parker says, “Without a warrant or substantial probable cause … you don’t have a right to go into the backyard and search through buildings, never mind the shack.” He says the killing of Paula Hughes’ German shepherd was wrong. “If you’ve got no right to be on the property, you’ve got no right to shoot the dog.”

Professor O’Donnell agrees that if there’s not an emergency, “You need to have a warrant to go into someone’s house.” But he notes that due to institutional pressures, officers and their commanders often feel they can’t admit they were wrong.

O’Donnell adds, “If you can’t be truthful, then what are your reports going to say?”

Parker explains, “If you operate from the premise that [police] had no right to be there, that damages the self-protection aspect of the shooting. … Angel and Jennifer are innocent victims in this situation.”

O’Donnell says it’s also “interesting” that Mendez was not prosecuted for pointing an imitation gun. “He basically didn’t do a crime,” the professor says. “He was sitting in his home.”

The sheriff’s department’s own Internal Affairs investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, as did the OIR—the Office of Independent Review—and the LA DA’s office.

There’s much more to the story so read the rest here.


SUE REAMS GETS HER SON BACK AFTER 3-STRIKES AND 17 YEARS

Anyone who has reported on 3-Strikes reform has probably met or talked to Sue Reams, one of the front line 3-Strikes reform activists. Reams started her campaign to change the law after her son went away on a life sentence.

The day before Easter of this year, she and her husband were able to bring her son home from prison.

NPR’s Ina Jaffe has the story. Here’s the audio. And her’s a clip from the text:

…Before that moment, Shane had served about 17 years of his potential life sentence. He got his third strike for being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. He says he was a bystander. The prosecution said he was a lookout. But it was Shane’s first two strikes that caused his mother such heartache, as she said in a 2009 interview with NPR. She’d been trying to get her son off drugs, she explained. Nothing seemed to work, so she tried tough love.

“Tough love tells you that you take a stand,” she said. “So I took a stand.”

That meant when her son stole some stuff from her house — and from the neighbors — to get money for drugs, Reams insisted he turn himself in. She even drove him to the police station. She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”

Instead he got convicted of two counts of residential burglary. A few years later when he got picked up on the drug charge, those burglaries counted as his first two strikes….


THE TEEN COURT OPTION

Los Angeles has a remarkable teen court program that we’ve visited and will report on in the future, but here’s a report on a teen court in Napa, California that is doing good things.

Michael Waterson writing for the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

Recognizing the power of peer pressure, Napa County’s juvenile justice system attempts to harness it for positive behavioral change through a peer court program where teens judge teens.

Peer Court came to American Canyon on Thursday. A young defendant was tried in City Hall chambers by youth lawyers who presented the case to a teenage jury and Napa County Family Court Commissioner Monique Langhorne-Johnson. The young attorneys were mentored by real lawyers from the Napa Bar Association or experienced Peer Court youths.

The young defendant, who because of his age can’t be identified, had been arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana and concentrated cannabis. A high school senior and a good student with a 3.27 grade point average, the defendant said he used marijuana more than once for joint pain in his knees and shoulder. He said a doctor told him surgery was not an option to correct his pain.

On the day he was caught smoking with a friend in a parked car, he said he had come from work where he had stood on his feet all day. Because of his arrest, he has been given a curfew by his parents, he said.

In addition to observing another Peer Court proceeding, writing an essay about it and serving on a peer jury, student prosecutors Eric McFarland and Acee Echevarria called for the defendant to put in eight hours of community service and complete a drug education class.

A 16-year-old student at American Canyon High School, McFarland said he has always loved the idea of being a lawyer. His middle name, Kazi, means “lawyer” in the Bengali dialect he said.

Echevarria, also 16 and an American Canyon student, said he is fascinated by the law, so much so he sometimes travels to Napa to sit in on random court proceedings.

“I first heard of it in class,” Echevarria said about Peer Court. “I fell in love with the program….”


Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department via LA Weekly

Posted in Courts, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LASD, Sentencing | 25 Comments »

50 Years of Gideon—the Case That Created the Right to Public Defense…Plus Failing Our Girls in the Juvie Justice System… & More $$ for the LASD

March 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY GIDEON V. WAINWRIGHT – THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

We have all heard the text of the Miranda warning recited in films and on episodic TV shows at least a zillion times:

You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
You have the right to an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.

What most of us don’t know or don’t remember is the fact that the last line—the thing about a lawyer being provided for those who can’t afford one—is a right that is only half a century old.

Monday, March 18, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, which guarantees the right to counsel for criminal defendants in state courts who
cannot afford an attorney.

But, despite this remarkable Supreme Court decision that changed American legal history, and despite the hard work of many dedicated public defenders, the system, say experts, is close to broken, with overloaded public defenders often able to spend little more than 3 hours on a clients entire case.

The AP’s Mark Sherman has a story on the topic. Here’s a clip:

….So that was the promise of Gideon — that a competent lawyer for the defense would stand on an equal footing with prosecutors, and that justice would prevail, at least in theory.

A half-century later, there are parts of the country where “it is better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor. Leahy said court-appointed lawyers often are underpaid and can be “inexperienced, inept, uninterested or worse.”

Regardless of guilt or innocence, few of those accused of crimes are rich, while 80 percent say they are too poor to afford a lawyer.

People who work in the criminal justice system have become numb to the problems, creating a culture of low expectations, said Jonathan Rapping, a veteran public defender who has worked in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New Orleans.

Rapping remembers walking into a courtroom in New Orleans for the first time for a client’s initial appearance before a judge. Several defendants in jump suits were shackled together in one part of the courtroom. The judge moved briskly through charges against each of the men, with a lawyer speaking up for each one.

Then he called a name and there was no lawyer present. The defendant piped up. “The guy said he hadn’t seen a lawyer since he was locked up 70 days ago. And no one in the courtroom was shocked. No one was surprised,” Rapping said.

A new award-winning documentary called “Gideon’s Army” gives a visceral feeling for the problem, and the idealism of some of the young public defenders who are trying to make a difference, despite the odds.


GIRLS & BOYS ARE DIFFERENT—SO WHY DO WE PRETEND OTHERWISE WHEN WE LOCK THEM UP?

The juvenile justice system was—and in most ways still is—-designed for boys. And that’s a problem.

Yes, boys greatly outnumber girls in the justice system but girls’ numbers have been growing. Between 1991 and 2003, girls’ detentions rose by 98 percent, compared to a 29 percent increase in boys’
detentions.

More recently, as the number of juvenile arrests has dropped in the U.S., the drop is far bigger for boys than for girls. (In 2010, boys’ arrests had decreased by 26.5 percent since 2001, while girls’ arrests had decreased by only 15.5 percent.)

Girls come into detention facilities for different reasons and with different needs from those of their male counterparts, and yet they are often treated with a cookie cutter sameness.

For instance, 19 percent of boys in juvenile detention facilities had tried to commit suicide, while 44 percent of girls had.

In terms of physical abuse, the split was 22 percent boys, 42 percent girls.

And 8 percent of boys admitted to being sexually abused; 35 percent of girls had been sexually abused.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to differences—and the needs they suggest.

The Sunday LA Times has a story by Anna Gorman on the subject. And it is an important topic that we’ll continue to return to over the next year.

Here’s a clip from Gorman’s report:

Latrice lifts the sleeve of her gray sweatshirt to reveal small, dark lines — scars from slicing her forearm over and over to drown out pain from years of sexual abuse. She says she was an alcoholic, dropped out of school in the eighth grade and got pregnant at 16.

Now 18, she is in Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system because she violated probation. Latrice says she has been locked up more than 20 times in four years. Petite and talkative, she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and takes antidepressants.

Her health issues — and those of about 9,400 girls in juvenile detention centers around the nation — are serious and complex. Many of the girls don’t have regular doctors, so their physical and emotional problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. That continues when they enter a system that was designed for boys and has been slow to adapt to girls.

“Their health needs are different; they are more severe and more complicated than boys’,” said Catherine Gallagher, a George Mason University professor and an expert in juvenile justice. “They come in underserved…. They remain underserved.”

More than one-third of girls in custody nationwide have a history of sexual abuse, compared with 8% of boys. Girls also have had more physical abuse, suicide attempts and drug-related problems, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Few juvenile justice centers have shown they meet minimum healthcare standards, and girls are less likely than boys to get the care they need.

Both the Atlantic Monthly and NPR did good stories —both by reporter Jenny Gold—on the needs of girls that are worth reading and/or listening.

Here, also is one of the studies from the Department of Justice with some of the facts and figures.


SHERIFF LEE BACA AGAIN PROPOSES NEARLY $1 NEW BILLION JAIL

Christina Villacorte of the Daily News has the story:

With the inmate population steadily increasing, Sheriff Lee Baca will ask the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to study replacing the dilapidated and violence-plagued Men’s Central Jail with a $932.8-million high-tech facility, and consider relying more on electronic monitoring devices and other alternatives to incarceration.

The proposal at this stage is to hire a contractor to prepare a conceptual design and environmental impact review.

In a letter to the board, Baca and county chief executive officer William Fujioka said it was “critical” to begin the process of replacing the aging MCJ with a more efficient facility that would hold high-security and medical inmates.

The proposed new jail would be built on the site of the half-century-old MCJ in downtown Los Angeles. It is envisioned to house up to 3,500 high-security and medical inmates in two towers.

Baca and County CEO are also scheduled to ask for $22 million in order to restore adequate patrols in the county’s unincorporated areas. (So what happened to that independent audit that was going to be done on the department’s budget to find out where the money was going. Here’s that story—also from Villacorte at the DN.

Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, juvenile justice | No Comments »

LASD Use Cameras to Reduce False Identifications, Federal Court Weighs in on DNA Sampling, and the Full Cost of Money Bail

September 20th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTIES SNAP PHOTOS TO HELP PREVENT MISTAKEN IDENTIFICATION

Under a new program, certain LASD deputies are now armed with cameras in an effort to lower the number of innocent people jailed as a result of mistaken identity. A December 2011 LA Times report showed that almost 1,500 wrongful incarcerations took place over the last five years, although the number has been declining.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

Along with his Taser, baton and handgun, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Det. David Huelsen has a new tool for meting out justice: a point-and-shoot camera.

The Malibu traffic detective is among a handful of cops the Sheriff’s Department has equipped with digital cameras as part of an effort to reduce the number of innocent people jailed after being mistaken for wanted criminals.

The reforms come after a Times investigation detailed how authorities in the county had incarcerated people mistaken for wanted criminals more than 1,480 times over five years. Some spent weeks behind bars before the errors were realized. In recent months, other law enforcement agencies around the country have also been confronted with the problem, but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is emerging as one of the leaders in attempting to solve it.

Deputies are using the cameras to take photos of people who get cited but don’t have ID. If a defendant misses court appearances and becomes the subject of an arrest warrant, officials hope having the photos on file will avoid cases of mistaken identity.


US NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS DISCUSSES DNA SAMPLING ON ALL FELONY ARRESTS

An eleven-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated for an hour Wednesday on whether or not the mandatory collection of DNA from anyone facing a felony charge was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as an unreasonable search and seizure.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The majority of the judges expressed particular concern that the DNA is taken from people regardless of whether they are later charged or convicted of a crime. The arguments were the latest round in an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the nine-year-old DNA collection law.

9th Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith grilled a deputy attorney general, insisting there is no reason California’s law should permit DNA collection at the point of arrest.

“I don’t see what the government loses by putting it off until conviction, or until a judge looks at it … or at least the prosecutor looks at it, rather than just the police look at it,” said Smith, a Republican appointee of former President George W. Bush.

9th Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher also expressed reservations about the government seizing a person’s genetic map at the point of arrest. The ACLU case was filed on behalf of several people who were arrested and never charged with a crime, yet were forced to provide DNA samples.

“Now if I’m arrested, I wind up leaving behind in the custody of the government the intimate details of my medical condition, my heritage, whatever is in that DNA sample,” Fisher said to Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell.

(We’ll let you know when the court hands down a decision.)


MONEY BAIL IS A COSTLY FAILURE, SAYS REPORT

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute calls money bail a discriminatory policy that adds billions in taxpayer costs without increasing public safety. The report also outlines proven alternative pretrial detention and release services. Here’s a clip from the press release:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that taxpayers spend over $9 billion in jail costs alone to keep people in pretrial detention. Meanwhile, people who are held in jail while awaiting a court date may lose their job and housing. Their children and families may suffer from not having that person in the home taking care of his or her responsibilities. People who are jailed while awaiting trial are also more likely to be found guilty and go to prison than their counterparts who are free. This is for a variety of reasons, including the impact of enduring harsh jail conditions, reduced access to defense attorneys, inability to maintain the types of social and personal responsibilities, and the reality that showing up in shackles and a jail jumpsuit creates an impression of guilt on judges and juries.

“Our constitution and laws are supposed to protect the presumption of innocence,” said Dr. Melissa Neal, author of Bail Fail and senior research associate at JPI. “Yet thousands of people are held in jails before trial because they don’t have access to money for bail. This is a waste of taxpayer money and it causes tremendous collateral consequences to those being unnecessarily incarcerated.”

The report shows how the average bail amount for people who are detained has more than doubled from $39,800 in 1992 to $89,900 in 2006. This is despite evidence that higher bail amounts are not related to more public safety and that people who are unable to afford money bail are often a lower risk of dangerousness or failure to appear in court – the two legal justifications to incarcerate someone pretrial – than those who can make bail.

[SNIP]

Bail Fail points to pretrial service (PTS) agencies, in particular, as effective in protecting public safety, ensuring people appear in court, reducing jail populations and their costs, as well as, leveling the playing field so that all people, regardless of income, have their rights protected. By using validated risk assessment instruments, PTS agencies can determine if a person is high, medium or low risk for dangerousness or failing to appear in court. They also can provide appropriate services that increase a person’s likelihood of pretrial success, including supervision and monitoring, referrals to drug treatment, and referrals to social service agencies to address other issues a person may be facing.

The report notes that Washington, D.C., through effective use of its Pretrial Services Agency, has successfully moved away from money bail. In D.C., 80 percent of people charged with an offense are released on nonfinancial bail options to await resolution of their charge while 15 percent are kept in pretrial detention. Only 5 percent are released using some form of financial bail, but there is no use of for-profit bail bondsmen services. The Pretrial Services Agency has reported that 88 percent successfully complete the pretrial process by appearing in court and not being rearrested.

Posted in Courts, DNA, LASD, pretrial detention/release | No Comments »

SoCal Adoption Agency Takes Steps for LGBT Kids, NY’s Experimental Juvie Court Alternatives…and More

August 7th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FOSTER FAMILY AND ADOPTION AGENCY RECRUITS RESOURCE FAMILIES FOR LGBT YOUTH

Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency, SCFFAA, is recruiting, training, and certifying prospective foster parents of LBGT youth. The agency is searching out those families and environments that can foster love and acceptance for LGBT kids who so often face grim hardships in foster care and in life on the streets.

Digital Journal has the press release. Here’s a clip:

The Child Welfare League of America reports that LGBT youth are “disproportionately represented” in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Studies show that approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and that well over half of these youth stay on the street because they feel “safer there than living in group or foster homes.” Social workers across the country have long struggled to find foster and adoptive families that can provide LGBT adolescents with the support they need during the transition to young adulthood.

Sylvia Fogelman, Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency’s (SCFFAA) President & CEO, shares her concern for these youth. “Children who self-identify as LGBT in the foster care system are faced with extra challenges. Too often, they are displaced from their homes, then face extreme challenges in finding safe shelter.”

Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA) is taking a bold step in its efforts to develop a targeted recruitment of resource families for LGBT foster youth. It has partnered with RaiseAChild.US, a non-profit organization that encourages LGBT people to build their families through fostering and adoption.

Rich Valenza, Founder & President of RaiseAChild.US explains the four phase plan designed to find viable solutions for LGBT youth. “We have created a survey, located at our website, http://www.RaiseAChild.US and invite the general public across the nation to participate, to help us to measure attitudes and concerns about fostering and adoption. After analyzing the data, we will build an infrastructure of support to address those concerns. Then, we go back to the public with a campaign to educate, advocate and recruit safe and loving homes for these children.”

Over the past 18 months, RaiseAChild.US has run three campaigns in Los Angeles, engaging over 500 prospective parents, with 400 attending recruitment events. SCFFAA is now training and certifying many of these recruits.

Robyn Harrod, SCFFAA Adoption Program Director, explains the goals of the collaboration. “Foster youth who self-identify as LGBT need many of the same things all youth need—but above all, acceptance. There are many prospective foster parents who can provide this—our task is to educate and cultivate these homes for this chronically neglected segment of our foster population.”


NEW YORK’S PILOT PROGRAM DIVERTS KIDS AWAY FROM CONVENTIONAL COURT SYSTEM

An experimental juvenile justice program is being piloted in nine NY courtrooms, called “adolescent diversion parts.” The program gives 16 and 17-year-old kids a chance to bypass the court system—where they would be considered adults—in favor of alternatives such as counseling, classes, and community-based programs. And it seems to be working—the Brooklyn courtroom sees an 80% compliance rate on ordered treatments from defendants.

Reuter’s Joseph Ax has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Nelson Reyes, 17, stood in a Long Island courtroom on a recent weekday, awaiting his fate on what was originally a felony drug possession charge.

But this was no ordinary hearing.

Reyes’ father accompanied his son in the attorneys’ well – a rare sight in a criminal courtroom — and Nassau County District Court Judge Sharon Gianelli’s benevolent tone was more that of a guidance counselor than a criminal judge.

“I have been monitoring your treatment,” Gianelli said, after thanking Reyes’ father for his support. “It is my hope that you’ll continue with the treatment and the counseling.”

And with that, Reyes’ criminal case was dismissed, his record cleansed and, he said after the hearing, his life put back on track.

Reyes is part of a tiny minority of 16- and 17-year-old defendants in New York being given a chance to bypass the regular criminal court system, where he would have been treated as an adult and likely received probation, a mark that could imperil future employment and educational opportunities.

New York is one of two states (North Carolina is the other) in which defendants 16 and older are considered adults, no matter how minor the offense. But that might be changing.

The courtroom in which Reyes appeared is one of nine “adolescent diversion parts,” a pilot program set up this year to provide non-traditional outcomes for 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders.

A bill to establish these courtrooms statewide as part of a new “youth division” – a hybrid of criminal and family courts — stalled in the state legislature this summer, leaving it in limbo until 2013.


MISS AMERICA’S FIRST-HAND TAKE ON GROWING UP WITH AN INCARCERATED PARENT

Current Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler—an unlikely keynote speaker at the most recent American Correctional Association conference—shared her thoughts and personal experience regarding the considerable adversities kids with incarcerated parents face on a daily basis. (There are currently more than 1.7M kids with a parent behind bars. Be sure to scroll down for more statistics from the Prison Fellowship.)

Youth Today’s Robert Rosenbloom has the story. Here’s a clip:

…Miss America had an unexpected personal story that the crowd was very much interested in.

You see this Miss America is the child of an incarcerated parent. She spoke of the trauma faced by children like her with a passion born of experience; a family that struggled with the shame of an incarcerated father, the loss of economic stability and the anger that could have taken a self-destructive path.

She told us how it was difficult to go to school and face the other children who made fun of her and that she felt somehow guilty in an indescribable way. The father’s incarceration led to her parent’s divorce. Difficult as it was, she and her two sisters visited her father in prison.

“If visiting parents in prison is supposed to help heal wounds and keep family bonds connected, nothing about the experience helped foster that,” she explained in her address to the convention.

It was just one more regular reminder of the devastation her father visited upon her family. But she did help us all understand that creating the best possible experience for children visiting incarcerated parents is just as important as offender counseling.

Creating a good visitation experience also translates to juvenile secure facilities. We know that many children in juvenile facilities are parents of children and helping incarcerated young parents nurture bonds with their children helps them both. The statistics are alarming for both adult and juveniles that are incarcerated. The children of incarcerated individuals have a higher rate of crime and delinquency.

Approximately 1.7 million children in the nation have a parent in prison or jail, according to a 2009 report by the Sentencing Project. More than 10 million children have had a parent spend time behind bars, according to theAnnie E. Casey Foundation.

These children face the difficulties of growing up with this additional burden. Child neglect, drug use and dropping out of school are all by-products of failing to cope with the situation.

Our Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler, overcame the odds. She found support and encouragement. A smart girl with talent was pointed in the right direction, but she admits it could have easily gone down another less productive path.

The Prison Fellowship has compiled a wealth of facts about children with incarcerated parents. Here are a few:

—Since 1997, the frequency of contact between children and their parents in federal prison has dropped substantially; monthly contact has decreased by 28 percent, while those who report never having contact has increased by 17 percent (Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, Feb. 2009).

—Fifty-two percent of all incarcerated men and women are parents (Sentencing Project, 2009), and 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).

—Sixty-three percent of federal prisoners and 55 percent of state prisoners are parents of children under age 18 (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).

—More than 60 percent of parents in state prison and more than 80 percent of parents in federal prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence; only 15 percent of parents in a state facility and about 5 percent of parents in a federal facility are incarcerated less than 50 miles from their last place of residence (Sentencing Project, 2009).

Posted in children and adolescents, Courts, crime and punishment, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, LGBT | 3 Comments »

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